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Task force explores connections between poverty, disarmament, environmental degradation

Task force explores connections between poverty, disarmament, environmental degradation

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Task force explores connections between poverty, disarmament, environmental degradation

Nov. 1, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0760}

An e-Review Feature
By Erik J. Alsgaard and T.C. Morrow**

A task force from The United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops spent two days in October starting the process of updating a 21-year old pastoral letter and statement that responded to the threat of nuclear war.

Titled “In Defense of Creation,” the 1986 statement was a rare example of the entire Council of Bishops coming together to address what they saw as a critical need in the world and church.

Expanding its scope for the post-cold war era, members of the task force heard testimony from a variety of experts on global warming, nuclear weapons, global security, and pandemic poverty and disease.

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker is chair of the task force. “I am excited about the revision of ‘In Defense of Creation’ because it enables the church to relate the gospel to the crucial issues confronting our world and the makers of public policy,” he said.

Commenting on making the document relevant for the entire United Methodist body, Whitaker said, “We shall attempt to get the vigorous leadership of bishops outside the U.S. in addressing the issues from the perspective of the church in their nations.”

The task force has one non-U.S. member, Bishop Patrick Streiff of the Central and Southern Europe Episcopal Area.

Since 1986 when the first “In Defense of Creation” document was written United Methodists have been deeply concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons and their potential use. Protestors continue to voice their concerns, particularly at sites like the Nevada Test Site, the most bombed site on the planet. More than 1,000 nuclear weapons have been exploded here. A UMNS Photo by Ronny Perry. FUMNS photo #07-0700.

At Whitaker’s invitation, three members of the Florida Conference Global Mission and Justice committee attended the hearings: the Rev. Chris McNeil, pastor of Clearview United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg; Marion McMillan, a clergy spouse from Beymer Memorial United Methodist Church in Winter Haven; and Anna Peacock-Preston, a laywoman from Jacksonville.

The Florida Conference participants will gather information from throughout the Florida conference as the document is being rewritten and funnel it to the writing team. Once the new pastoral statement is finished, sometime in 2009, the Florida team anticipates holding teaching and educational events throughout the Florida Conference to help implement its findings.

Presiding at the hearings was Virginia Conference Bishop Charlene Kammerer, elected bishop in 1996 from the Florida Conference.

“What struck me were the clear linkages among all the topics, the grim depictions of current realities,” she said. “And, yet, there is the strong sense of hope and optimism that all these issues can be addressed and necessary changes can happen to preserve and protect all of God’s creation, the world and its peoples.”

Experts providing testimony included Lora Lumpe, legislative representative for conventional weapons at the Friends Committee on National Legislation; independent journalist Howard Morland; Christopher Flavin, president of Worldwatch; Natural Resources Defense Council scientist Daniel Lashof; Robert Musil, formerly of Physicians for Social Responsibility; and Stephen Lerner of the Service Employees International Union.

The impact of climate change on the human population was a constant theme of the hearings, with the possibility of exacerbating hunger and disease in years to come through increased drought, floods and heat waves. As to the theological basis for action related to responding to global warming, Reid Detchon, executive director of the Energy Future Coalition and an Episcopalian layperson, said, “For me it is a ‘love thy neighbor’ issue.”

Starting the second day’s focus on global warming, the task force joined Muslim, Jewish and Christian clergy for a breakfast on the role of faith communities in caring for creation. The Right Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool (Church of England); Imam Yahya Hendi, secretary general and founder of Imams for Human Rights and Dialogue; and Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, president of the Washington Board of Rabbis, spoke about faith groundings for active engagement in care of creation care and environmental justice.

Global poverty in areas like Malanje, Africa, where a child scavenges for food in a garbage pit, will also be addressed in the revised “In Defense of Creation” document. A UMNS Photo by Mike DuBose. FUMNS photo #07-0701.

“We are caught up in a disease of consumption, and that is what is afflicting the earth,” Jones said. “So last year for Lent in the Diocese of Liverpool I called a carbon fast.” He reported that by the end of the fast, “people weren’t ready to resume their previous consumption levels; it made them think about their life.”

Comparing this revision to the original “In Defense of Creation,” Bishop Dale White, retired and co-chairman of the original process, commented, “The original study/action document was prepared at a time in which the ‘mutually assurance destruction (MAD) doctrine’ was in rapid retreat, with members of an aroused civil society ‘overcoming their nuclear numbness, getting good and scared, then getting good and mad, and getting into action,’ as Dr. Helen Caldicott used to say.”

Today, the bishop said, “national governments are losing credibility as they try to discredit the science of global warming, to shore up the old polluting industries and to build military ramparts higher and higher to protect a decaying empire.

“In this moment, as in the 1980s, the people … are once again turning to trusted leaders of their communities of faith to inspire and to guide them through perilous times, drawing upon the wisdom yet living in their ancient scriptures.”

Sunday school classes, groups of United Methodist Women and Men, and others are encouraged to conduct hearings, conversation and study on nuclear proliferation, the environment and poverty in 2007 and 2008. The results should be sent to the Rev. Barbara Green, executive director of the Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy, at or 4500 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20016.


This article relates to Church and Society.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference. T.C. Morrow is on staff at the Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy in Washington, D.C.